For the past few months I've been toying around with a side project, and it's somewhat about time that I attempt to make it somewhat public. I've had it on the sidebar for some time as well as slyly using it as a category on this blog, but I feel it's time to announce it. Heterochronia. It's a somewhat lazy attempt to collect examples of something that I can't exactly put my finger on, I'm not exactly sure I understand it, but it's there. I'm hoping that if I make this post long enough I'll be able to get a handle on it. I'll ramble on for a bit before hopefully either making sense to my self or getting around to making a point. The term, heterochronia, is a biological one, that refers to a different timing in the development of organisms. For a more useful and relevant definition, we should turn to the source from where I got it from, the semi recent Tate Triennial Altermodern.
Hetero – different or other, chronos – time. Within the framework of Altermodern, it describes artists’ work which cannot be easily anchored to a specific time; which asks us to question what is contemporary. Without nostalgia, artists trace lines and connections through time as well as space. It is not the modernist idea of time advancing in a linear fashion, nor the postmodern time advancing in loops, but a chaining or clustering together of signs from contemporary and historical periods which allows an exploration of what is now.’It is significant that a number of today’s artists operate in a space-time characterised by this “delay”, playing with the anachronistic, with multi-temporality or time-lag.
This doesn't exactly get across what I'm toying with, but Bourriaud does go someway towards explaining it. I spent some time toying around with what to name the blog, in the end going with Heterochronia. Yet the roots of this idea isn't with everyones favourite french super curator. Instead, I'm shamelessly exploring a few of the thoughts that Bruce Sterling and William Gibson have been toying with for the past two years or so: atemporality. To paraphrase Sterling, I'm playing with their ideas but "shaving off the serial numbers". I wanted, badly, to call it Atemporality or Zero History. Not only would it have been too obvious and easy but the SEO would have been nigh impossible.
Perhaps another explanation would be through a semi incoherent rambling email I sent trying to explain the darn thing:
It's a symptom of the network culture that we live in, that the idea of time, and progress, that we used to have has changed. We're not looking down the barrel of a single point perspective of progress, nor are we pissing on it because it's a product of - what's that word? The annoying one? Deals with power struggles. Annoying and PoMo - anyway, [I think I meant hegemony] it's not those two approaches to time, but this really fragmented version of progress.
Where it makes total sense to use instagram or hipstamatic on an iphone. Or that camera that you have is a model of an older camera, that borrows the styles of yesteryear of the Olympus Pen line, but then doesn't keep on replicating the styles as it continues, but branches out from it. And how we're all toying around with the idea of utopia and progress ad futurity, but it feels different than any other time.
It's not a grand statement or vision of the future, but a smaller, more pragmatic approach. We're not going to solve the problem that will be the twenty teens with large monolithic solutions, but we'll branch out, and try a million different possibilities and see what sticks. And also how we've got guys with jets coming outof their back, which is kinda the future, but we're not responding to it the way we should. Or, we can't, because there's too many things going on and we have to go look at cats or look at gizmodo instead.
As I mentioned, these aren't my ideas. I'm merely using the medium of a blog to explore them. I'm not such a fan of tumblrs, sucking and scraping thing's off the internet with no real attempt to create something new. It does suit the project (as exploration) and the topic (contemporary understanding of time and our time period) rather well. I don't provide any commentary on any of the links I've put up; it's more of a public archive for my own sake. I kept on noticing these vaguely coalescing ideas and felt the need to do something about it. Shamefully, the front end needs quite a bit of work. I've stabbed at it here and there, but I just can't wrap my head around the CSS and HTML that Tumblr use to construct templates. No matter, it's a rough approximation of the heroic modernist aesthetic that seems appropriate for what I'm collecting.
At this point I need to mention the starting point for this project. Sterling's talk Atemporality for the Creative Artist is a near perfect explanation for some of the ideas that I'm playing around with in my assortment of links. The whole talk is mesmerising in only the way Bruce can be:
So what makes an atemporal situation different from a post-modern situation, or a modernist situation, or a classicist situation, what’s really different about it?
Well, let me take a guy who I am very fond of, a very immediate, hard-headed scientific thinker - Richard Feynman, American physicist. Richard Feynman once wrote about intellectual labor, and he said the following: ‘Step one - write down the problem. Step two - think really hard. Step three - write down the solution’.
And I really admire this statement of Feynman’s. It’s no-nonsense, it’s no fakery, it’s about hard work for the intellectual laborer… Of course it’s a joke. But it’s not merely a joke. He is trying to make it as simple as possible. I mean: really just confront the intellectual problem!
But there is an unexamined assumption in Feynman’s method, and it’s in step one - write down the problem.
Now let me tell you how the atemporal Richard Feynman approaches this. The atemporal Richard Feynman is not very paper-friendly, because he lives in a network culture. So it occurs to the atemporal Feynman that he may, or may not, have a problem.
‘Step one - write problem in a search engine, see if somebody else has solved it already. Step two - write problem in my blog; study the commentory cross-linked to other guys. Step three - write my problem in Twitter in a hundred and forty characters. See if I can get it that small. See if it gets retweeted. Step four - open source the problem; supply some instructables to get me as far as I’ve been able to get, see if the community takes it any further. Step five - start a Ning social network about my problem, name the network after my problem, see if anybody accumulates around my problem. Step six - make a video of my problem. Youtube my video, see if it spreads virally, see if any media convergence accumulates around my problem. Step seven - create a design fiction that pretends that my problem has already been solved. Create some gadget or application or product that has some relevance to my problem and see if anybody builds it. Step eight - exacerbate or intensify my problem with a work of interventionist tactical media. And step nine - find some kind of pretty illustrations from the Flickr ‘Looking into the Past’ photo pool.’
In one way it's the triumph of the new over the old. On the other hand it doesn't really care about the distinction between the new and the old, in a manner that's dissimilar to the postmodern notion of the pastiche. In this regard we return to Bourriaud's idea that our understanding of time, and thus the future (and the past), are about how we cluster various signs together. By branching out in different directions instead of moving from step one to two to three. Having quickly flipped over to check my mail and messages it occurs to me that a tidy example is the use of threaded and branching messages on facebook, gmail, twitter etc.
History books are ink on paper. They are linear narratives with beginning and ends. They are stories created from archival documents and from other books. Network culture, not really into that. Network culture differs from literary culture in a great many ways. And step one is that the operating system is an unquestioned given. The first thing you do is go to the operating system, without even thinking of it as a conscious choice.
Now, a new master narrative could arise on paper. That would be easy. On paper, if it were just a matter of paper, we could do it. But to do that via the Internet is about as likely as the Internet becoming a single state-controlled television channel. Because a single historical narrative is a paper narrative.
To reiterate: our understanding of temporal sequence is affected by the dominant medium of the day. The sequential nature of the book forced upon us the idea of the lone subject reading a singular argument from beginning to end. After the Renaissance and single point perspective, the Industrial revolution gave us steam travel, and with it the ability to move continuously through space in a single line. There's also the Judeo-Christian notion of time either moving towards or away from an ideal. Let's not forget my favourite time period, the Enlightenment and the sumptuous idea of progress. But the dominant form of our time is not a sequential argument, it's a series of links that (hopefully) add up to something cohesive. Or there's no argument to be had at all, merely the experience of moving through different points. The network image has been seared into our collective consciousness. I'll be damned if Deleuze gets credit for any of this; rhizome is such an ugly word. We'll all just agree to use the term network structure and leave it at that.
Back to the idea of the paper narrative. I'm intrigued at this idea, and despite the obvious and inherent problems with it, I'm attempting to turn the blog into a paper narrative. It's a bit of a silly and self indulgent project; I've been toying around with the idea of making a small run risograph book, mostly to flex my print layout muscles. But as Mr Geddes pointed out to me the other day, the risograph is a technology that doesn't make sense. It's a printing method that doesn't belong in this time frame, nor any other time frame at that. And with that in mind, I'm attempting to create this book and send it out. I'm hoping that after a year I'll be tempted to make another one. It's partially to unashamedly play around with aesthetics. The other reason is to kickstart me into paying more attention to the blog; to fine tune my antenna.
My main fear is that the end result will be a silly attempt at shoehorning some ideas into a medium that doesn't play well with the content. So, how to organise a non linnear narrative according to a medium so intent on remaining linear? Perhaps, and this is a side thought, the next edition could be a newspaper. To just play around with dead media. It is at this point that I realise that I am toying around with the designer equivalent with the hipster fascination with dead mediums, the tape cassette being the immediate substantion of that. I've recently been wondering when fashion will catch up, properly, to rave culture. To the heady days of pre Y2K, (ok, fine, when I got into rave culture) and the cd as the equivalent of the cassette tape and vinyl before that. I'm intrigued at how that particular object will play into the vernacular in the same way. As an object, it's useless. Far too thick to be used as a phone case. Beige computer boxes will have to make a comeback at this point. Mark my words, expect to see old pentium computers being hollowed out to be used as speaker boxes. I must find that scene in Idoru, or is it All Tomorrow's Parties, where a bar (I think) uses the boxes as an interior decorative element. Pardon that tangent. I must learn to focus, or edit.
One method I've been toying with is by going through the blog and tagging everything. I find tagging slows me down when all I want to do is copy a link or text and throw it up before I get distracted. But there's an argument to be made that the act of naming something helps to clarify oneself. Even if I don't get around to tagging the blog (or using these tags specifically), breaking down the posts into these components helps me work through a few disparate thoughts.
Modern Ruin looks at the built ruins of modernism, the architectural decay of the dreams of the twentieth century. Taking the name from an exhibition at GOMA, it's ruin porn, plain and simple. Yet I'm not looking back at this past with scorn, or through rose tinted glasses, although there are tinges of admiration. It's more about looking at a foreign past. A past whose ideologies seem foreign to us now. A past in which the idea of utopia and progress don't match with how we view our uncertain future. And looking at the result that entropy has had on those ideologies and their material substantiations. It's a deep and respectful nostalgia for the absolute, without the warfare.
As a flip to this are the unbuilt attempts and ideas of what the future was to be like. I'm trying not to toy around with this too much, as there are plenty of paleofuture blogs out there that have this niche cornered extremely well. Besides, it would be too easy to spend all my time on youtube looking up Jetsons snippets and world fair videos. But this sort of stuff is good ol' fashioned light hearted fun. Especially when they get it so wrong.
It seems that while the idea of futurity has mostly fallen in the west, it seems to be alive and well in other parts of the world. In the heroic sense at least. I need to put up more examples of this. The recent world fair in China is a perfect example of how the idea of progress is alive and well in other parts of the world. The unbelievably bland American exhibit was in stark contrast to the rest on show. There is still a sense of the heroic, but it's not coming out of the west, not as strongly as it used to, anyway. That's what I'm attempting to do with Rise of the Rest: document the excitement coming from other areas of the globe, without looking at it through the (somewhat whiney) lens of Post Colonialism.
Objects out of time plot some of the points of the consumer landscape that don't seem to exist in the right time frame, aesthetically at least. I mostly blame the hipster for this one, and their love of nostalgia. I'm still trying to determine if there is an element of pastiche with some of the products, but I'm more impressed when they bring something out of retirement and then move it into new directions. Directions that couldn't have existed then, and can only exist now, as extensions of their former selves, either through technological or branding means. Exploring the new map with old objects, pushing the form or the function or the market niche for todays situation.
Design Fictions are quite useful as they help to push through ideas of futures that we may inhabit, to act as probes (pardon the use of that term, I'm feeling lazy and it always feels apt). I find them to rather hard to spot without resorting to the usual suspects. The really good ones always look plausible, and I always have to question if they're fun playthings or genuinely attempt to map out and explore future scenarios or to extrapolate on situations that we're already inhabiting.
Leading on from that are genuine attempts at future making. I'm getting lots of this stuff from kickstarter, the best place for pushing out ideas of the distributed and clustering future that we're headed for. Except most of the real juicy bits from kickstarter are all centered around a very specific future. Minor tangent: I'd love to see a compendium of interesting ideas on kickstarter that didn't make enough money for the project to start. Surely there'd be a few super interesting ideas that didn't get enough attention.
And then there's been a recent spate of juicy spacefaring goodness, and the death of the shuttle program. Nothing speaks to the raw vein of wanting to live in the future than spaceflight. The prohibitive costs of it meant that it just wasn't sustainable until we move a few parsecs above the level of technology we have now. Shame.
I haven't poked around with Network Culture stuff too much; the ways in which our newly networked mediated culture affect us and our comprehension of time. A halfhearted attempt to map the false histories and possible futures that a network culture enables. In other ways it looks at how the network culture is surpassing the twentieth century. A superficial example of this are the delightful photos of the smoke trails of space shuttles taken out the window of an airplane, using a cameraphone, with all of the poor image quality that this brings. To see the trails of these hulking machines lift through the cloud, the dreams of a faded future. And then watching these images zip through the internet, one retweeted twitpic at a time.
Another gaping hole that I should really get around to tending to sooner rather than later is the new form of heroic modernism as it relates to generative structures, objects and systems. This is a useful avenue to go down as it provides an even starker vision of modernism than the original. I'll need to tip toe down this route; too much of it or the wrong examples and the point will be lost. Sitting next to Design Fiction should be something about Alternative Universes but the concept hasn't had enough time to crystallize for me to say anything worthwhile about it.
So far these are just some of the threads that I've been able to name. There's much more stuff in there that I haven't been able to get a handle on. Perhaps what's needed are more examples of similar links, enough for it to make sense to me at least.
Returning back to Bourriaud, it's the way in which our time is not linear as it used to be, nor is it endlessly cycling back on itself. Instead, it's how our attempts at progress are spreading out in different directions, and clustering on those different futures that seem plausible, or even hopeful, for different groups of people. In another way - and I can't really back this up with any sort of a cohesive argument - it is an attempt to pretend that Post Modernity never happened. Instead, we're faced with a void of time between the end of heroic modernism and now. Just a small thought.
As I've mentioned, it's a way for me to get a handle on a few things. As such, there isn't much cohesive thought put into it, and I'll get distracted by a few things that aren't necessarily what I'm looking for, or appropriate. But that's fine. In some way, I wanted to do this blog to get away from the fear of having to write for a blog. Twitter has taken away all of the short form posts I used to do, and thus after redesigning this place I was left without a place to just put stuff up online without it disappearing in a twitter stream.
Having gotten this far, I haven't really completed step 3 - solve the problem. I haven't really thought hard enough about some of these topics, missing large areas that require deeper thought than what I've been able to attend to. On the other hand I find it much easier to take Feymans atemporal approach. Which, if you've paid attention so far, is mostly the point.